So, What Have We Been Doing in Reference?
We are just finishing up performance appraisals at NARA – that annual event where employees and supervisors get together and discuss how the employee has done in the past year to meet his or her “critical elements.” Critical elements are the duties and responsibilities each one of us has to support NARA’s goals and objectives. As an employee I am always unnerved by the process, even though I have had good supervisors and generally came out of the discussions feeling good about my job and excited about how I can do it better. As a supervisor, the paperwork is a drag but I really love the opportunity to talk to a staff member one on one, to hear what they have been doing, how they feel about where they are in their career, and how together we make improvements both for the employee and NARA.
So why am I bringing this up here? Because I have a pet peeve about the bad rep government employees have and after reviewing the past year with my staff – I want to share with you some of the great work that they have done to improve your access to archival records here in the DC area.
Let’s start with our everyday work:
- We delivered 406,730 items to over 78,000 researcher visits; 90% of the records were delivered within an hour of the pull time.
- Our reference staff responded to 41,934 written requests; 84% within 10 working days and 94% within 20.
- We described 17,290 series of textual records (55,141 cubic feet) in our online catalog (ARC). In addition, we created enhanced descriptions for 313,027 file units at Archives 2.
- We completed preservation work on 37,000 cubic feet of at-risk textual records.
This past year has also been a time of taking a hard look at our reference processes and developing leaner, more efficient ways of meeting your needs with our limited resources. Some of our staff were trained and received certificates in Lean Six Sigma process improvement and have used those skills to streamline our processes. Completed projects include improved cycle time of records pulled for researchers at Archives 2, improved response time for written correspondence, and increased access to records by posting existing and new research aids to Archives.Gov. (Be sure and check our researcher web page periodically to see what new research aids have been added.) We are also working on additional lean projects to improve research consultations and how to better manage the research requests we get via email. Stay tuned!
You might not know about our outreach activities. One of the highlights was the Sixth Annual Genealogy Fair, “The World of Genealogy,” held on April 14th and 15th. This year the fair drew the largest crowd ever- 2500 people! There were 19 guest exhibitors and 26 speaker sessions. The Customer Service staff did a fabulous job pulling this off without a hitch. The same team also offered 93 Know Your Records programs. These lectures and workshops are offered at both Archives I and Archives II and are designed to help both the novice and expert researcher know more about the records we have and the types of information they contain. Check the website periodically to see what’s coming up.
I will admit that we have plenty of room to improve with both our customer service and our reference work. But with only 6 months experience in this office I can tell you that I am bowled over by the amount of good work that gets done and by the professionalism and passion of the staff . So, if you have an issue with staff or our service, please let me know. But if you have a good experience with us, please tell us that too.
Susan R. Cummings
Director, Access Programs